As if talking about it makes it more real, or hastens its arrival, people avoid talking about death and dying. But conversations about the end of life are necessary and valuable. They can:
- help people who are dying feel less anxious, confused or uncertain of what to expect
- help them make better, more informed choices about their care and support, and how they spend their remaining time ; and
- help them and their families be, and feel, better prepared for their death.
If we don’t talk about it, we arrive at a situation where the choices are fewer, regrets more plentiful, and conversations more distressing and medicalised.
I’m in a situation today where I wished I’d pushed harder to have the difficult conversation with a loved one sooner, and covered more of the ground (beyond will/power of attorney).
I dealt with that regret by writing the first version of my death plan – a document I plan to update annually from now on. It covers my views and preferences for:
- dying in comfort and dignity surrounded by loved ones, and having taken the time to reminisce with them and say goodbye, rather than fighting to the “bitter end” in a hospital
- quality time over “more time” where the time medical treatment can win me is only days or weeks
- how I’d like to spend my final weeks and days, and where I’d like to die
- what I’d like done with my body after I die
- funeral arrangements
- the destination of a handful of precious possessions
- my digital self.
I cried a lot. And I’m sure I will cry when I talk it through.
I don’t expect it to be needed for a long while. I don’t expect the plan would be followed to the letter.
And though my death is unavoidable, its manner is currently unpredictable, so on the medical elements of the plan I’ve given something closer to principles than prescription.
Going through this process has made me realise there are things I want to do now. People I haven’t spoken to in too long. Hugs I need. Thanks I want to give. Memories I want to make. Stories I want to pass on. Digital and physical clutter to dispose of. And letters I want to write for my daughters to read when they’re older.
If we treat dying as an experience, rather than this single point in time we’re desperately trying to delay, then it becomes part of life rather than its end point. And something we can make better.